What is Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy, also called marriage counseling or relationship counseling, is a type of therapy that helps couples to recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. Through therapy you can make improved decisions about rebuilding and strengthening your relationship, or going your separate ways. Relationship counseling can help couples in all types of intimate relationships — regardless of sexual orientation or marital status. Couples therapy typically includes both partners, but sometimes one partner chooses to work with a therapist alone.
Some couples seek therapy to strengthen their partnership and gain a better understanding of each other. Therapy can also help couples who are planning to get married. Premarital counseling can help couples achieve a deeper understanding of each other and iron out differences before marriage. In other cases, couples seek relationship counseling to improve a troubled relationship. You can use therapy to help with many specific issues, including:
- Communication problems
- Conflicts about child rearing or blended families
- Substance abuse
- Sexual difficulties
What you can expect
Couples therapy typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions. Working with a therapist, you’ll learn skills to improve or rebuild your relationship, such as:
- Open communication
- How to discuss differences rationally
- Patience and forgiveness
- Trust and honesty
You’ll talk about the good and the challenging parts of your relationship as you learn to pinpoint and better understand the sources of your conflicts. Together you’ll learn how to identify problems without blame and instead examine how things can be improved.
It might be difficult to talk about your problems with the counselor. Sessions might potentially pass in silence as you and your partner remain angry over perceived wrongs — or you might yell or argue during sessions. Both are OK. Your therapist can act as a mediator and help you cope with the resulting emotions.
If your partner refuses to attend couples therapy sessions, you can still attend. It’s more challenging to improve a relationship this way, but you can benefit by learning more about your reactions and behavior. Some people need only a few sessions of therapy, while others need it for several months.
Sometimes relationship counseling helps couples discover that their differences truly are irreconcilable and that it’s best to end the relationship. Sessions can then focus on skills for ending the relationship on good terms.
Your counselor might suggest communication exercises to help you practice what you’ve learned during your session. For example, talk face-to-face with your partner for a few minutes every day about non-stressful things — without any interruptions from TVs, phones, or children.
You or your partner might need additional support. If one of you is coping with mental illness, substance abuse, or other issues, your therapist might work with other health care providers to provide more complete treatment.
Making the decision to go to couples therapy can be tough. If you have a troubled relationship, however, seeking help is more effective than ignoring your problems or hoping they get better on their own. Sometimes taking the first step by admitting the relationship needs help is the hardest part. Most individuals find the experience to be insightful and empowering.
Is Couples Therapy Right for Us?
As the stigma surrounding counseling has declined over the years the number of couples seeking counseling has increased. Couples counseling can be an effective way to mend a broken relationship, experts say, but only if people start the process before the damage is too extensive to repair. The general advice is not to wait until you are on the verge of divorce. Go when there is still an underlying basis for the relationship to continue.
How do you know when it is time? Here are some signs:
Your fights are escalating out of control. Fighting can be healthy, but only when done in a constructive manner. Couples therapy can help people change their arguing style so they can resolve their problems in a less hurtful way, setting a more positive example for each other and their children. And it can help couples without children improve their behavior around family and friends.
You encounter the same stumbling blocks day after day. When couples find themselves rehashing the same issue over and over again—bickering over the division of chores, say, or fighting overspending habits—it may be time to consider outside intervention.
You feel you are slowly drifting away from each other. While constant fighting often signals that it’s time to get help, a noticeable lack of confrontation can also be cause for concern. Some people fear conflict or feel uncomfortable sharing their concerns about their relationships. In those cases, people can find themselves slowly growing apart from their partner. In these cases, it’s the counselor’s job to draw relationship concerns out of the partners, working to close the emotional gap between them.
At Awakened Path, couples therapy is based on methods founded upon research regarding what it takes to build and sustain healthy relationships. We employ scientific approaches such as the Gottman Method, that help people learn how to let go of defensiveness and work together to understand each other better. Since we are all unique relationships are naturally challenging. Your partner’s perspective is different from yours however, even if you disagree, it is possible to connect with and understand each other’s feelings. Empathy is an essential powerful healer and foundation for growth in relationships. When your partner feels like you genuinely care about their feelings they are likely to reciprocate that care.
Our goal is to teach couples how to show one another that they are invested in the relationship or mediating a peaceful mutually agreed upon end. We show people how to communicate effectively and show appreciation for the other person; committing to understanding their partner better and having a relationship that feels safe, supported and loving. The primary goals are to stop the conflict, increase positive communication, mutual respect, intimacy and promote genuine, deep understanding.
Our approach to couples therapy is about observing your relationship in real-time and developing an awareness founded upon positivity. Research has shown that negativity has a profound effect on whether couples grow together or apart. We help people understand how to nurture positive outcomes even when there are challenges and disagreements. Clients develop skills with the understanding that everyone has individual views in a relationship and coming together, respecting each other’s perspectives and making compromises when necessary is the key to success. It is impossible for two people to agree on everything however, therapy can show you the active steps in trying to understand how your partner sees things – allowing them to feel valued and more likely to understand your point of view.
When couples work with a therapist at Awakened Path, their first session will consist of a joint therapy session where an assessment will be completed. Sometimes, the couple is asked to complete a survey about their relationship which is then reviewed and incorporated into the intake process. The couple and therapist will discuss how often they will meet for therapy and what their goals are. They decide what areas they would like to work on, not limited to intimacy, becoming better friends, conflict management, and repairing past resentment or painful feelings toward each other. There is also a focus on relapse prevention; developing the skills necessary to keep old issues from resurfacing once resolved.